MONROVIA, Montserrado – In March of this year, President George Weah created a public relations nightmare when he requested 6,000 teachers from the Nigerian government as part of a technical assistance agreement between the two nations.
The president’s decision to call for such a high number of teachers from abroad highlights a real issue that stakeholders of the education sector are very aware of. Liberia faces a severe shortage of qualified teachers. In fact, besides the need for the 6,000 teachers to fill spaces in classrooms, only half of existing teachers are considered qualified for the grades they teach, which presents a significant hindrance in the learning outcomes of children.
At least one local organization is trying to change this. Teach for Liberia, which was started by a Liberian who spent 20 years living in the U.S., is working to train 700 teachers to impact 140,000 primary school students – that amount will be enough to fill 10 percent of teaching vacancies nationwide.
The organization is hosting an auction event for local art pieces today at 6:00 p.m. in the TreeHouse Tech Workspace at the intersection of 16th Street and Coleman Avenue in Sinkor.
The organization’s executive director, Desmond Diggs, told The Bush Chicken in an interview that incredible sculptures made from materials used during Liberia’s civil war and painting arts made by local artists would be on sale during the auction. The artists include Cyrus Cooper, Leslie Lumeh, and Manfred Zbrzezny.
According to Diggs, the aim of the event is to showcase the talent of local artists and raise funds to support the organization’s upcoming teachers training institute to train 40 university graduates to be professional teachers.
He said the target is to raise at least US$10,000 from percentages of sales as agreed by the artists, which is their contribution to the organization’s initiative.
The amount will compensate for the first teachers training institute, including training materials, accommodation, stipend, feeding, preparation of the fellows and other gaps during the program.
“There are other needs, but the most critical one is we need to feed our fellows as they would go through an intensive teacher training institute that is going to last between 30 and 45 days,” Diggs noted.
“There are other gaps we trying to identify, but that is roughly what it’s going to take for the 30 to 45 days of the fellowship and the 60 days, that includes preparations for the fellows to start.”
He said tickets for the event are on sale for US$30 and can be purchased in person on 16th street and at Mamba Point, while online purchase can be done online at teachforliberia.org/donate using Paypal.
He added that those who will be unable to attend the auction can also make their purchases online after the event.
During the event, he said food and drinks would be served by Andrea Kamara Dunbar from The Balance Bowl.
Teach for Liberia is part of the international network, Teach for All, that operates in more than 40 countries including Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana. The network recruits and develops promising future leaders to teach in their nations’ under-resourced schools and communities.
Diggs said he moved back to Liberia to start the program as a legacy contribution, amid reports of the declining state of the country’s education system.
“When you read the papers, they talk about high school students failing the WASSCE [West African Senior Secondary Certification Exam] and WAEC [West African Examinations Council] exams; they talk about all of the university candidates failing the entrance examinations and poor preparations for the job market,” he said.
“But what I found is that, there are so many young people who are qualified, who are able-bodied, who are talented, and who understand how to navigate Liberia, but there is not enough opportunity to digest.”
Diggs expressed optimism about the potentials of unlocking Liberia’s human resource potentials: “I know that there is a lot to do and I know that our education system is lacking in a lot of ways, but I do think that Liberians have the answers – and I do think that Liberians are the answers.”
He said during the program, fellows are provided with tailored, high-quality training for placement in rural and urban primary schools for two years, after which they may go on to become leaders in their communities and the private sector. Working with other stakeholders, he believes they will change the system that leaves so many Liberian children behind.
“We are leveraging exceptional young leaders; we are motivating them to be great teachers.”
Featured photo by Gbatemah Senah